Craft Beer Heroes is our occasional series that trains its eye on some of the people without whom the Australian craft beer scene wouldn't be what it is. They're often people who might not otherwise get recognition in the wider beer world, which is the case with Neil Whittorn, a brewer whose humble nature ensures that he's as loved by those who know him within the industry as he's unknown to those who have drunk the many millions of beers that have passed through his hands.
Today, despite being past retirement age, he's part of the brewing team at Stone & Wood, where he acts as a mentor to the many young brewers that work at the two breweries in northern New South Wales. Prior to that, he worked at the Matilda Bay breweries in Port Melbourne and Dandenong, moving to Stone & Wood when CUB closed the Port Melbourne brewery that's now home to Colonial's East Coast operation.
His brewing career began way back in 1972 although, in typically understated fashion, he says his "brewing life is not exceptional except for the length of time and the many experiences", saying the best times have been after 2000, when he joined Stockade Brewery in Dandenong (which was to become Matilda Bay's first Victorian home).
You only need to mention his name to people who've worked with him or spent time with him, be they brewers who've plied their trade alongside him or those, like Moon Dog and Mountain Goat, who collaborated with him on the first few Abbey Collabby brews for Good Beer Week, to understand the affection in which he is held. And why the ex Matilda Bay employees now running Stone & Wood were only to happy to be reunited with him again.
Anyway, in rather fewer words than we've used to introduce him, here's Neil...
How do you fit into the wonderful world that is craft beer in Australia?
With my youth, energy and enthusiasm.
What drew you to work in beer?
Work? This is play.
How long have you been promoting beer in your own particular way?
Ever since I collected empties for the Scouts.
What was the first ever job you had in the beer world?
Brewer at Bouverie Street, Carlton, for CUB.
As Wayne Coyne, of The Flaming Lips, once pondered: “Why does it matter?”
As Alfred E Neuman once pondered: “What? Me Worry?”
What's been your proudest / happiest moment as a craft beer advocate?
Seeing the kids become better craft brewers than me.
Describe your craft beer utopia.
Water, malt, hops or yeast?
All, or nothing...
If you had one minute in which to convert someone to craft beer, how would you spend it?
Serve craft beer direct from fermenter with pizza.
And if you had three beers with which to convert someone, what would they be?
Belgian lambic. German wheat beer. Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.
Thanks, Neil. Here's to another 44 years of brewing. You can check out Neil's take on life at Stone & Wood in this video below:
And you can find past Craft Beer Heroes here.